III. Paul’s prayer was spiritually oriented.
The third characteristic of Paul’s prayer for the Colossians is that it was spiritually oriented. That is to says, His prayers were primarily for spiritual good of the Colossian believers! Look closely and you will see that there was a purpose to Paul’s prayer, and that purpose was spiritual in its nature.
For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Colossians 1:9)
The Colossians were in a crisis as they faced what we now refer to as the Colossian Heresy. Paul knew that their greatest spiritual need was a knowledge of the will of God. You see, the Colossian Heresy emphasized a special knowledge (gnosis) that was speculative and mystical. Here Paul prays for a knowledge that is far more subsatantive. The word he uses is not gnosis (knowledge) but epignosis. This is very similar to gnosis it just ads a few letter on the beginning of the word. It is sort of like “duplicate” and “reduplicate”. It means that same thing, but a little different nuance. Specifically, here Paul is referring to a decisive knowledge NOT speculative or subjunctive. In fact, this word is usually used in NT of some kind of theological knowledge. That means that Paul is praying for a decisive and theological knowledge. The kind of decisive theological knowledge of God’s will that is absolutely necessary for the Christian life.
All Christians can have this kind of knowledge because the will of God is found in the bible. It’s not mystical. We don’t have to channel our inner selves to find it. We don’t to attain a higher knowledge. We simply need to understand and apply what God has already revealed. This kind of knowledge is of eternal significance. Apart from this knowledge we don’t know the GOSPEL. That is why Paul’s prayer is for the Colossians to be filled with this knowledge.
Please note that Paul prays that they would be filled. He does not say fill yourself. Using the illustration of a cup, a cup can’t fill itself. Someone has to fill the cup up. The same is true of our spiritual knowledge. It requires Divine enablement for us to have this kind of knowledge. At the same time we have a responsibility to respond to God’s enablement. In fact, Paul even mentions the means of maintaining this knowledge when he says, “in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” In other words, God divinely enables you to understand spiritual truth and you grow in this through developing wisdom and understanding.
- The “spiritual wisdom” = attainment and possession of valuable spiritual truth.
- The “spiritual understanding” = application and understanding of how to use the truth.
- “All” = every, or each individual truth of scripture!
Going back to the illustration of a cup, a cup can’t fill itself up. But, a cup that tips itself over will not stay full!
I love that the Christian faith is concrete not just “God has to fill you” then you wait and don’t know what to do. Instead, this is how we receive the knowledge and take advantage of the Divine enablement. Remember the bible is the only truth, but within the bible there are lots of truths for us to learn and apply. We can never exhaust these truths, and always need to be growing in this area. In our Christian lives when we are diligent to attain and apply spiritual truth from the Bible, God will not only enable us to do this but He will also bless us by providing us with a decisive knowledge of His will.
This passage is valuable for our own spiritual growth and advancement in spiritual knowledge. It is also valuable for how to pray for others. As we see from all this, Paul’s prayer was focused on the spiritual good of the Colossians, and this is a wonderful model for us to follow in our own prayer lives. This is very different from how most people pray. Usually we pray only, or first for physical needs. This isn’t wrong, but we need to make spiritual needs the priority.
The priority Paul places on spiritual prayer request very much reminds me of the prayer request James Boice’s shared with his congregation when he was diagnosed with cancer:
A number of you have asked what you can do, and it strikes me that what you can do, you are doing. This is a good congregation, and you do the right things. You are praying certainly, and I’ve been assured of that by many people. And I know of many meetings that have been going on.
A relevant question, I guess, when you pray is, pray for what? Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that, of course. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles—and he certainly can—is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. So although miracles do happen, they’re rare by definition. A miracle has to be an unusual thing.
I think it’s far more profitable to pray for wisdom for the doctors. Doctors have a great deal of experience, of course, in their expertise, but they’re not omniscient—they do make mistakes—and then also for the effectiveness of the treatment. Sometimes it does very well and sometimes not so well, and that’s certainly a legitimate thing to pray for.
Above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though he could have. Jesus said, “Don’t you think I could call down from my Father ten legions of angels for my defense?” But he didn’t do that. And yet that’s where God is most glorified.
What about you? What would your prayer have been? Better yet, how are you praying for the spiritual needs of those around you?